Broward Teachers Return as Union Feud With District Escalates

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NBC Miami | by Ari Odzer | January 11, 2021

Time’s up for about 1,100 Broward County Public Schools teachers who had been working from home. These are teachers who had been given special accommodations because of health concerns. All of them were scheduled to report to their classrooms today as the district says they are needed in schools.

The school district had granted accommodations to 1,700 teachers in October, and gave extensions to more than 600 who have the most severe health issues.

The Broward Teachers Union filed suit against the district last week, demanding that the teachers who received accommodations be allowed to teach from home for the entire school year. The district says all of those teachers knew their status could change on January 8th.

“The schedule should’ve been worked out so they could say you know what? We had this percentage of students back, and this is the amount of teachers we need back in the school, they did it the other way, come back and then we’re gonna figure it out,” said Anna Fusco, BTU president.

“Our bus drivers, our custodians, our principals, our administrators, our clerks, our food service workers, all these people have been back working in the district since we opened up October 9th, so this is not something extraordinary that we’re asking to do,” said superintendent Robert Runcie.

Angela Betancourt is a cancer patient and second-grade teacher at Broadview Elementary School. She told me in a Zoom interview that going back to her classroom today was nerve-wracking, as she worried about what she might contract in her immunocompromised condition.

“Not angry, it’s most like frustration that I couldn’t get extension,” Betancourt said.

She said seeing her students in person was a boost for her spirits, but even that was tempered by pandemic reality.

“One of the girls ran to me actually and tried to give me a hug but I have to stop her and say sweetie, no hugs, remember we can’t,” Betancourt said.

At a news conference, Runcie said Broward has the lowest percentage of students physically in school of any school district in Florida, 27%, and said that must change.

“We can’t lose a generation of kids in Broward County or this nation when we can actually open up our schools and do better than we’re doing,” Runcie said.

The superintendent pointed out with record numbers of students failing with distance learning, it’s all hands on deck to get more kids back into the classrooms. Runcie says to do that, they need as many teachers as possible to come back.

“Some parents and students are taking a wait and see approach if they’re gonna come back to school because they don’t want to be warehoused and sitting in the auditorium and gymnasium so they want to make sure there’s actually gonna be some real change, that they’re gonna be in the classroom interacting with a teacher,” Runcie said.

Runcie reiterated what he and other superintendents have been saying for weeks, which is that data and science shows that schools have not been secondary spreader environments for corona virus, so teachers, he says, are not in as much danger as they might think.

However, the district will likely grant more extensions as they consider individual cases.